Perpignon – Planes
After getting a little lost (again) we actually managed to return the hire car to Girona airport no problem. We then had to get a bus back to Girona train station where we would be getting a high-speed train to Perpignon via Figueres to start the French leg of our travels. My plan was to drop the backpack in Left Luggage and walk round Girona town again as we had a few hours before our train. However, one thing I have learned about travelling with a 4-year-old is to ‘under plan’ everything and to allow double the time to do everything. Bear Cub had woken that morning complaining of a ‘funny’ tummy. I was worried at first that he had eaten something that disagreed with him but I soon realised he was literally exhausted and the many late nights and early mornings had finally caught up with him despite napping during car journey’s in the day. He really did look ill, poor bear, and was very pale. I put him to sleep in the car and he thankfully had almost an hour while I dismantled the tent which gave him enough energy to make it to the airport and the train station. However, I could feel an imminent meltdown once we’d reached there so we decided to hang out in the cool air-conditioned train station. Bear Cub actually constantly kept falling asleep and napping on every chair he sat on. It at least kept him from being bored so that before we knew it, it was time to board the train.
The High-speed train was lots of fun and the changeover was smooth except the journey was so short, Bear Cub was a very grizzly bear indeed when I had to wake him at Perpignan. We then had a very stressful 40 minutes of trying to locate the Hertz car hire place which was supposedly ‘at’ the train station – me sweating and straining with the huge backpack and Bear Cub in tears from tiredness. It’s amazing the internal dialogue I have had in terms of my parenting along this journey. It ranges from patting myself on the back and thinking I’m doing pretty good as a mum when Bear Cub is ecstatic at spotting a lizard or climbing a ‘real’ mountain, to wondering if I need to report myself to Childline when I’m forcing my son to trail round a railway station in 34 degree heat with a backpack on his back while I hiss and moan at him for being whiney!!! Anyway, it turned out the Hertz place was actually not in the station but across the road and down the street. By now it was 6.30pm and I was aware we still had a 2 hour journey ahead of us to our campsite. What made matters a little more daunting was that I soon discovered that the car we’d been given had the power of a moped and was no match for the winding roads and steep hills of the Pyrenees!! At some stretches we were crawling a long in 2nd gear and must have looked quite a comical sight – though at this stage I wasn’t really finding anything funny!! Bear Cub immediately fell asleep and I was left to take in the breath-taking scenery. I really have never seen such amazing views and it helped to calm me and quiet the voice inside condemning me for my bad parenting!
The journey was long and was pretty scary on some of the steep bends around the beautiful Pyrenees but we eventually found our campsite and it was well worth the journey.
L’orri de Planes is an Ecological Country House with a Gite, rooms, Eco-tents and free camping sites too. It was small but perfectly equipped, immaculately clean, with a pool and WiFi. The ethos of the owners, Arif and Marta is to create a site that is as sustainable as possible. The food was all locally sourced, everything was recycled, the whole place was solar-powered and everywhere you looked were signs advising you not waste water, lights or any energy. The restaurant is apparently known to serve some of the best food in the region and we gratefully sampled a delicious Lasagne when we arrived exhausted from our journey. By this time it was almost 9pm and Bear Cub was beside himself with tiredness. I relented and asked Arif if they had any rooms free so we could get a good night’s sleep and he did but also offered us the cheaper option of the Gite. The Gite was actually like a Scandinavian style hut like hostel with 10 beds in the room. There was only one other person staying in there so we opted to sleep on the mezzanine level which had 4 beds and a measure of added privacy due to being elevated. This was the best decision Id made that day and we stayed 3 nights with Bear Cub sleeping until 10am one morning and much better for it!
L’Orri de Planes is a great place and I can’t recommend it enough. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and Bea Cub especially enjoyed a ride on Le Petit Train Jaune which is an open top train that takes you on a ride along the cliff top edges of the Pyrenees. We also climbed a mountain (just a little one) and paddled in a natural waterfall/river. With more children at the site Bear Cub even made some friends so it was smiles all round!
Manses near Mirepoix
After feeling much more rested we headed to our next stop – Belrapayre – Europe’s only Retro Trailer park in Manses near Mirepoix. Coline, the owner along with her husband, Perry had warned me that it was their annual retro airstream meeting that weekend so if it was a quiet stay I was after it was not the place! I thought it sounded like fun but opted for just one night just in case. I now wish I’d stayed longer!! We had a fantastic time!
Driving everywhere in France is beautiful. Passing fields packed to the corners with Sunflowers, hills, mountains and trees you can’t help but drive along with a smile on your face.
We found Belrapayre fairly easily thanks to NavFree France and the place immediately has an impact on you. Belrepayre is not only full of amazing, immaculately restored retro Airstream trailers but the whole place is decorated to fit in with the retro feel. The reception is a trailer adorned with classic, American car signs, 60’s decor and mannequins kitted out in the appropriate gear. The trailer pitches are surrounded with pink flamingos and the walkways have half old cars and old-fashioned bath tubs filled with flowers. The play area has a real old double-decker bus and London taxi parked up and a red phone box that made us feel at home 🙂
Perry and Coline are fantastic people and have a wonderful story to tell. Perry, originally from Surrey U.K, was actually one of the most famous clowns in Europe and his Father was a well-known British actor. He persuaded Coline to run away to the circus with him and they eventually had their own circus that travelled round Europe along with their four sons. After many years they sold the circus and set up the Airstream Retro park that is Belrepayre and what a wonderful place it is. They are the perfect welcoming guests and everything is a bit tongue-in-cheek, kitsch and fun!
The Airstream meeting in the evening consisted of everyone dressing as retro as possible and enjoying a special 3 course meal with a live French duo performing and the evening culminated in the annual slap-stick performance from Perry and one of his sons, Correo, who is also a professional performer. Nothing is taken too seriously and a lot of fun was had by all. Perry ended the evening with a DJ set as his alter-ego ‘Johnny Lotion’. Somehow Bear Cub managed to stay up until midnight and we had a fabulous time.
This stop was the one where I first made some real friends who made a real impact on me and I intend to keep in touch with. Dr Egbert Mulder is a Director of the biggest Yoga centre in Amsterdam and has attended the Airstream meeting 3 years in a row. This year was the first on his own with his 3 children since he separated from his wife. Egbert was a successful businessman and consultant and decided to radically change his life and do something of ‘meaning’ so sold his businesses and now focuses on developing the centre. He was amazingly wise and calming and hugely positive. He kept reminding me that ‘Life is something that happens while we’re busy making plans!’ He also showed me some great techniques for dealing with stress. It was interesting to me that he told me ‘stress’ is not about being busy, it s about any negative emotion. And all negative emotion immobilises us. We’re then unable to think straight, make decisions or plan ahead. We are literally incapacitated by all negative emotion. We therefore need to deal with ‘stress’ so that we can move forward in to the future. This was spot on for me.
Another lovely person I met was Lenka, a Thai Massage Therapist from Czech republic. She instantly befriended me and we talked for most of the evening. I also attended one of her workshops the next morning and it was wonderful!
All in all Belrapayre was a great experience and I fully intend to go for the Airstream meeting next year!
On the way to our next destination we stopped at Carcasonne which has a beautiful and magical castle with lovely little shops, artists studios and cafes within its walls. We didn’t have time to pay and go in the castle part itself but loved the bustling vibe and Bear Cub enjoyed playing Knights and hunting Dragons in the grounds.
Our next stop took a lot longer to get to than I anticipated as we basically had to drive down to the coast before we could go up back into the Mid Pyrenees and our skateboard car did not like the windy roads at all! It took almost 4 hours and our petrol tank was low – really low! I can tell you now I was praying like mad! It was a Sunday and all the little petrol stations, few and far between were closed. I was kicking myself for not filling up in Millau the nearest big town to our site which was actually 40 mins away! By the skin of our teeth we limped into Domaine des Pradines exhausted – more from the stress and worry than anything else.
I have to admit, Domaine des Pradines was my least favourite campsite so far. It was rustic and wild which I’d come to prefer to the more commercial campsites but I found the toilets and showers dirty and the facilities a bit unkept. However, Bear Cub had made friends before I’d even finished putting the tent up (which I now have down to a fine art by the way!) and with a small pool, two parks, a table tennis room and tennis courts, he was more than happy! For me it was a bit isolated. There was nothing outside of the park except for the little village of Lanuejols which didn’t have much and was not exceptionally pretty like some of the places we’d seen.
I got to work booking our next stop. We did have a campsite earmarked that was again in the Natural Parks and mountains but the owner had irritated me by refusing to communicate to me in anything but French even though she was actually English! After her first email I replied in my very basic French politely saying my French was poor. She simply sent a much longer, more complicated reply in French! I had to use Google translate in the end! It took 3 emails back and forth just to find out how I could actually book. Now I know us English are very lazy with languages and I admit I’ve been ashamed of my French while here when Ive come across Swiss, Dutch and Czech people all fluent in both French and English. However, I felt she was taking her point too far – especially as she was English! So we sacked that one. Besides, we felt we needed to get back to the coast and the beaches and away from the winding roads of the Pyrenees in our ‘skate-board’ car. It was pretty taxing winding down a mountain for hours on end at 30 mph!!
We have been in France for just a week and it has been exhausting and exhilarating. We’ve already experienced so many different sides of this beautiful country. The French countryside is both inviting and embracing, it massages your soul into peaceful reflection and the sights and smells literally lift your spirits as you take them all in. I’d also personally finally begun to feel the changes within myself that I so desired on this trip: Clarity, vision for the future, peace and being okay with being on my own.
I already have a lot to thank France for and I think this is the start of a lifelong friendship. I’ve always fallen in love easily but I’m falling fast even for me with France!